A new opportunity for old problems of regional cooperation
Great expectations – this is how the title of the famous book can describe the preparation for the recently held presidential summit in Brdo kod Kranja under the auspices of the Brdo-Brioni Process. In 2020, the meeting was postponed, and this year it was the jubilee 10th summit. The process itself, one of the many initiatives of regional cooperation in the Western Balkans, is conceived as a periodic presidential summit of EU candidates and potential candidates, as well as the presidents of Slovenia and Croatia who, as heads of countries that are particularly interested in the Western Balkans’ membership in the EU, initiated the process in 2013.
The EU enlargement policy, in addition to the enlargement itself, as the most important result of the accession process, is also the Union’s instrument for the comprehensive economic, political and institutional transformation of the countries included in the process. Its most important dimension is its evolutionary nature, which allows it to adapt to the peculiarities of the region in which it operates, as well as to the political changes that have occurred during the long process of accession to the Union. Successful regional cooperation as a prerequisite, first of the Stabilization and Association Agreement, and then of the EU accession process, is the product of evolution and adjustment of conditions with the view of creating lasting peace in the Western Balkans.
The Brdo-Brioni Summit is an ambitious project primarily because it creates an opportunity for an independent initiative by the participants (which is not common in other initiatives that are strongly controlled by the Union). However, all these years, like other regional initiatives, the presidential summit has shown the weaknesses of the comprehensive process of the EU accession, and we can see that, better than ever, on the example of the last meeting.
Of course, a substantial number of non-papers that the public learned about in the weeks that preceded the summit cast an even stronger spotlight on this meeting. Analyzing the declaration as well as the negotiations related to the declaration, we can see that the meeting was strained by the insistence of the President of the Republic of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, on the part that highlights the change of borders only following United Nations decisions, which is not acceptable for Kosovo President, Vjosa Osmani.
The summit produced no clear results regarding this issue, which was expected at this moment anyway because no interested party wants to participate in the document, neither declarative nor legally binding, which deals with this issue. On the other hand, the initial ideas presented in non-papers for the purpose of deliberation, lost their meaning due to their inflation, but also their media treatment.
The main issue addressed by the declaration is insisting again on the European perspective of the Western Balkans
Consequently, the final content of the declaration is the lowest common denominator, which is expected for a consensus-based document. The main issue addressed by the declaration is insisting again on the European perspective of the Western Balkans. The European perspective of the Western Balkans was validated for the first time at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Thessaloniki in 2003, and since then, at the Summit in Sofia 2018, the Summit in Zagreb in 2020 and all summits of the Brdo-Brioni Process. Thus, the commitment to the process has been highlighted many times, but the result has unfortunately been lacking.
Given the length of the process, as well as the state of enlargement fatigue in both the Union and the Western Balkans, we can say that it is now only declarative and that the summit is a great opportunity to reaffirm and present the consensual commitment to European integration as a result of the meeting. To sum up, the declarative commitment to the integration process will not bother anyone, and everyone will be satisfied with what has been achieved.
In that sense, the only novelty is the insistence of the President of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, that the Western Balkans be viewed as a whole in the accession process. This brings us back to the convoy approach, which is a departure from the insistence of countries that their case should be viewed independently from other countries in the accession process (so-called regatta approach). This certainly affects the countries that lag behind in the process but bearing in mind only the declarative commitment to the process, as well as the now permanent fatigue of the Enlargement Policy, this is not a game-changer.
The results of the meeting can be assessed as modest, which was also expected, especially having in mind the Covid-19 pandemic, but also more importantly, the crisis of the Union’s Enlargement Policy, which was not overcome even by promoting the new methodology. Therefore, in the given circumstances, can the mere holding of the meeting and the now traditional (declarative) commitment to the European future for the region be considered a success?